Luring back the tourists


It won’t be easy to fix Toronto’s deteriorating reputation as a tourist destination, but for the sake of local jobs and the economy a renewed effort must be made to draw more visitors to Canada’s largest city.

Toronto’s economic development committee is to discuss a report today that presents some bleak findings: Fewer people are including the city in their travel plans, and those who do are increasingly disappointed. Potential visitors feel there is little new to see, and they worry about crime.

Some of these perceptions are unfair. Toronto is one of the safest big cities in North America – with a rate of violent crime that is well below Canada’s national average. And Toronto has recently experienced a flowering of striking architectural works, including the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum and Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art and Design.

A major challenge is that U.S. tourists are increasingly deterred by a high Canadian dollar and by ever-tightening border security measures. No wonder 25 per cent fewer Americans included Toronto in their vacation plans last year, as compared to 2004. As well, 23 per cent fewer Canadians put a trip to Toronto in their plans.

The report finds that the city’s newest “major mass entertainment experience” is the Hockey Hall of Fame, which opened back in 1993.

Toronto remains a safe, orderly, easy-to-reach city with excellent hotels, restaurants, convention facilities and festivals. That is a sound foundation on which to build a better tourist industry. But there is clearly a need for some popular new “tourist magnet” that would draw people here and have them stay longer.